I’ve been reading a lot of SF&F short stories lately and this has had me thinking of short stories I might write and then about the creative process. Ironically, I don’t spend a lot of time talking to authors about their creative process. Must they be in total silence? Do they accumulate ideas and then write them? Do they need music?
I do need quiet. I’m a thinker and I like to process things and research things before I pull the trigger.
For example, I’ve been thinking about garbage mining. Yes, garbage mining. It’s the way of the future, you know. But what would be involved with that and where would it go?
Few people think about garbage mining, even though it has become a staple of our economy. Especially since scientists figured out how to break plastic back down to its basic molecules—back to oil, really—garbage dumps are the new gold mines. Plus there’s all that scrap metal to be harvested from old cans and lids, etc.
Yep, De Beers still loves its diamond mines but it loves its garbage mines even more.
But garbage mining is not easy. In fact, it’s extremely difficult. First, the entire dig site must be enclosed in an airtight tent, to ensure that no methane and other gases are released in the process. This gas requires processing and storage, also. It’s another profit center, but not as much as plastic and metal.
Working inside the tent is a bit like working on another planet, a gas giant of some kind, in which the air is not breathable. The miners wear airtight, chemical resistant suits that aren’t quite as bulky as an astronaut’s but hot as hell, even with the cooling systems on-board. You see, as garbage breaks down, it gives off a lot of heat. As the miners dig, that heat is released. Much of it is captured and converted to energy to assist in processing, but not all of it.
Additionally, the miners are essentially working in a cloud of flammable gas. This means the equipment they use must be specially configured with spark arresters and shielded to ensure that a digger doesn’t blow up the whole site. That happened a lot at the beginning and still happens about twice a year. Garbage mining kills a few dozen men a year, but so did oil drilling—you know, before we were mostly tapped out—and other forms of mining. Cost of doing business.
Garbage mining has been bad for one form of business: body disposal. When they started digging in Fresh Kills, the dump that used to take in all of New York City’s trash, they found 436 bodies in the first decade. The city government was appalled. Of course, it’s been nearly a century since that dump was last used and no one responsible is still alive. Still it was surprising to find how many murder victims and missing persons were simply dumped with the garbage. At least with DNA testing there was some closure of the files, if not for the families.
With all of the copper and plastic in the dumps, not to mention the explosion risk, security around dumps is about the same as a military base. Every load of new trash is processed to the nth degree. Nothing ever gets buried anymore. It’s just processed or ground or recycled or broken down until something new can be done with it. So no way could a body get through.
That’s not to say, though, that some idiots don’t try, which is where I come in. McAllister, NYPD, Homicide.
So that’s one direction in which I could go. From here, it would be a standard mystery, though a bit more futuristic. I may play with this story here on the blog and see how many different ways I can slice it but, in the meantime, what is your process?